A Closer Look at College Rankings


There are so many college rankings these days it can be hard to keep track (everyone is #1 in something, right?). Anyone familiar with the college application process is aware of influence college rankings can have over parents and students. While rankings certainly offer a place to start when researching schools, it is important to note a few things about the type data is used to compile these lists. As well, thetop ten colleges don’t move up and down all that much from year to year, and nearly all the top 20 schools have brand name cache. In short, rankings aren’t going to help students discover that gem of a liberal arts school in the Pacific Northwest or a unique Southern school with a community feel, and that is part of the problem: these rankings are never able to provide a comprehensive picture of all the options available to students.


In addition, many feel that rankings  increase status anxiety for prospective students and their parents,architecture-1297381_640 and a 2012 report on the state of college admissions issued by the National Association for College Admission Counseling said that counselors don’t think the U.S. News rankings accurately represent information about colleges. It is more useful to thinking of rankings as a snapshot of what schools have to offer, and to do a deep dive and understand the data. Some of the data used to determine where a college lands in the rankings can be entirely subjective. For instance, 20% of a school’s evaluation depends on “undergraduate academic reputation” where officials at competing universities are asked to rank the reputation of other campuses. It isn’t difficult to see the inherent flaws, and as Frank Bruni points out in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times. He explains how a large part of the problem with the system is that prestige is valued over the quality of education offered at a school and that the actually quality of an education is a rather difficult data point to measure.


At Green Ivy, when we work with students on managing the college admissions process, we emphasize research on fit and fitness. Every student has different wants, needs and interests, and there are really an abundance of choices. The problem comes in when every student and parent wants to look at the same thirty or so universities, or wants to focus on only getting into schools in the “top twenty” rankings. In a process that is being made to feel more competitive and overwhelming each year, we strive to show students what it can and should be: an exciting chance for introspection, growth and personal discovery.